Monday, 25 February 2008

#3 - The Forest of Doom

Forest Of DoomIan Livingstone's first solo-written Fighting Fantasy gamebook veers from the template set down by Warlock and Citadel, inasmuch you aren't a bounty hunter in search of riches - at least not till half way through the ubiquitous 'Background'. Okay, so you pretty much are a pre-medieval Han Solo, but at least this time you're not raining on anyone's parade. The local dwarves of Stonybridge have lost their sacred hammer, and without it they're apparently unable to defend themselves against some nearby hill trolls and a neighbouring rival tribe of little people (a plot device similar to one used in the later Amiga/Sega game Faery Tale Adventure). You've agreed to find the hammer for them, not bothering to learn the politics behind the theft - perhaps the hammer belonged to the other tribe first? Maybe the hill trolls were driven from their homeland by the security-deficient dwarves of Stonybridge and have a rightful claim to the land? Slash and burn first, and ask questions later tends to be the way of Fighting Fantasy however, so off we go...

I arrived at Darkwood Forest (Faery has a 'Mirkwood Forest'... and here the similarities end, I promise) strong and skillful but low on luck - that's alright I thought, I'm entering an ominously monikered forest, I'm going to need to fight a lot. My first opportunity came quickly enough - before braving the dangers of the forest ('of doom', remember) I had to visit Yaztromo, a wizard, and immediately was offered the chance to fight him. Livingstone's no wouss. I passed, and instead decided to see what he could sell me. Yaztromo was a quick scribe - he scribbled no less than 80 words on a blackboard while I apparently waited (I hoped the dwarves of Stonybridge were patient and under no immediate threat). I grabbed a bunch of stuff that sounded useful ('Nose Filters' sounded wonderfully specific, so they were a no-brainer) and made my way into the forest.

The first person I came across was a thief. I didn't know this of course till after I'd freed him from the animal trap he was stuck in and said my goodbyes, the bastard. I resolved not to be so trusting in the future - these were probably the people who gave the forest its reputation, remember. Goodbye 'Net Of Entanglement', not that I needed you in the end...

For a forest 'of doom', Darkwood had a lot of well-trodden and distinct paths; I was often told I didn't feel like going a certain way, and had chosen another. The best I could do was go, "umm, okay." A turning point in my adventure happened soon after losing my net; I wished I'd been told I hadn't felt like eating mushrooms. Unfortunately, I had a choice, and at this early stage I was all for eating hallucinogenics; anything to break up the monotony of meeting untrustworthy types like thieves and goblins that weren't goblins but vicious, powerful shape-changers. The mushrooms were 'mix-up mushrooms', and swapped my skill and luck stores. I began with a skill of 10 and luck of seven; bugger. Total bugger. As a result, I was almost killed by the next ingrate I freed from capture, a barbarian who would otherwise have been vulture-feed. Once again I resolved not to trust anyone in this stupid forest that seemed to be teeming in arseholes and lacking in sacred hammers.

My crap skill score wasn't improved by an enchanted sword I was (now) luckily enough to be able to withdraw from the stone it was stuck in; no mention was made the +2 skill it gave me could go over my initial skill score, which was now a measly seven. This is perhaps one of the main failings of the Fighting Fantasy series; the initial skill being the maximum is a good idea in theory, but things like ENCHANTED FUCKING SWORDS should be able to give you a bonus over and above the rusty blade you've been carrying for weeks. If I recall correctly, later gamebooks allowed bonuses over and above the usual maximum more often, if only while wielding a specific weapon, but not while doing other things like jumping pits and bashing down locked doors (which covers 95% of all tests-of-skill one encounters in Allansia). I mean, why would carrying Excalibur make you any better at leaping holes in the ground? Exactly.

Anyway... I fought off some vampire bats, had a crap sleep and no breakfast and was killed by a "dragon-like" creature called a wyvern. I found neither the head nor the handle of the sacred hammer. Not even having an enchanted sword was any use. All in all, a disastrous diversion, and why the hell do those dwarves 'need' a sacred hammer anyway? I thought dwarves largely spurned religious matters? (A quick Wikipedia fact-check only confuses the issue, so I'll leave it at that.)

The version of the book I have closely resembles the one above, but mine has the green Puffin branding - though the copy I had in the early 1990s was an original, resplendent with star and larger title. And as I recall, and Wikipedia confirms, if you make it through the forest (as I nearly did) without both parts of the hammer, you have the chance to go through it again... resetting many of the set-pieces somewhat comically. The later gamebook Scorpion Swamp I think resolves this issue, though I may be mistaken. It's been more than a decade since I read either...

And lastly, the embarrassing update of the score: Zero from three. With Steve Jackson's universally-recognised-as-difficult Starship Traveller beckoning, it's probably not about to get any better.


Deb Clague said...

"stupid forest that seemed to be teeming in arseholes and lacking in sacred hammers" - LOL again. I've been meaning to get around to reading all (or at least all of the ones I own) of the FF series in numeric order for awhile. Reading this blog makes me want to do so.

Dan said...

You should! If you come across some I don't have (list on the front page) we could do a swap or something.

Gamebook Fanatic said...

This book is before Ian Livingstone decided to make all his FF works to be harsh, merciless scavenger-hunts where you die if you miss a single item out of a dozen. (I think he started at Book 9) In fact, I think guys who read his later works first will be surprised at how lenient he is in this book.

This is, however, one of my least favourite books in the series. It is “bad” in the sense that it seems flat and unexciting. In fact, when you consider the fact that this is the 3rd book in the series, I think this is almost a step back from the first two books.

I can understand the flaws in the “go back and try again” rules at the end, and I don’t really blame the author much for this, because I understand the limitations of really employing this rule effectively in a book limited to 400 paragraphs (although Steve Jack#2 did a fairly admirable job of it in Scorpion Swamp).

I can’t, however, look past the boring encounters in the book. It almost looks like Ian was trading quality for quantity in most of the story’s encounters. We have plenty of encounters in the book, yet most of them are limited to this:

You meet a creature/obstacle/object. You are given the choice to:

1. Use the appropriate magic item to deal with it if you have it
2. Fight it.
3. Leave it

That’s how bland most of the encounters are. Compare that to Citadel of Havoc, or even Warlock of Firetop Mountain. For most encounters in those books you aren’t just told what object would deal with the creature and use it if you have it. You are almost always given a range of choices. Do I wave a magical Cyclops Eye jewel at the Warlock or throw a slab of cheese at him? Do I throw a spell at Balthus Dire or offer him some berries? All these little choices, while they take up more paragraphs, make the encounters just that much more memorable overall. Like I said, Ian almost appeared to be going for quantity rather than quality as most encounters in this book generally don’t take more than 3 paragraphs and is all about choosing between Fight/Use 1 magic item/bugger off with very little variety. Fortunately, this trait isn’t as prevalent in most of his later books, and that’s a good change, in my opinion.

Batsey said...

The first ff book I ever encounterd, so it holds special memories for me. The book facinated me as a kid and I used to play forest of doom in the woods near where I lived. Played it again recently and was killed by the fucking Wyvern thing.

Jimbo said...

Legendary write up! bloody excellent! Keep it up bro

Aussiesmurf said...

I would have to say that the Forest of Doom is right down in the cellar in terms of my preference for Gamebooks.

I agree with the previous commenter who mentioned the flat and unexciting structure of the book. You enter a large, unexplored forest, you wander around, you try to find the two items you need, you come out the other end.

With the majority of the other books, there was some sense of progress, that things were moving forward. In Warlock of Firetop Mountain, you moved from the initial caved area to the river, the maze and the inner sanctum. In the Citadel of Chaos, you went past the initial guards into the secretive areas with the Ganjees, the wife, the hydra and so on.

Sorry Ian - one of the real disappointments.

lurgee said...

Disagree with the negative comments above. FoD is remarkable because of the structure, allowing you to loop back to the beginning. So if you miss a crucial item or didn't buy the right magical items at the start, you can continue the adventure without having to start from scratch. I imagine you don't have to be very bright to skip encounters you have already ... um ... encountered. This gave the book a flexibility sadly lacking in the books ones that came before, or most of those that came after. None of the "You collapse weeping on the Warlock's chest because you didn't get the right keys hahahaha looooooooser!" nonsense in FoD.